A Life in Google Maps

Excerpt from this article:

Inside Google Maps, we still live together. It’s July 2012 here; my car is parked in the driveway. One of your ham radio antennae peeks over the roof. The trees are in full leaf, so I can’t see the windows; are the lights on? Am I inside? It’s overcast, but the sun seems high; maybe I’m walking the dog, but I don’t see us. Probably I’m at my desk. Possibly I am on the floor crying for reasons I don’t even understand. It is five months until I leave.

You’re at work. Inside Google Maps, it’s July 2008 at your lab. I can’t zoom in close enough to see your bike in the vestibule, but I know you’re there. It’s overcast here too, one mile and four years away; maybe they’re the same clouds. Maybe they never parted. We aren’t married yet, here at the lab, though we will be soon.

In truth, inside Google Maps it will never be “now” anywhere. The most trafficked streets of the most traversed cities might be re-sampled every year or two, but even there it is at best this afternoon, this morning, yesterday. More likely it’s last month, last year, two years ago. You can travel back in time, on these popular streets, rolling the clock back to the panoptic camera’s previous run—but you won’t see the time in between. At my first New York apartment, it is 2014, and 2013, and 2011, and 2009, and 2007 . . . but it is never 2012.

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Old memories, accidentally trapped in amber by our digital devices

Digital Memories

Excerpt from this article:

Designer and typographer Marcin Wichary started a thread on Twitter yesterday about “UIs that accidentally amass memories” with the initial example of the “Preferred Networks” listing of all the wifi networks his computer had ever joined, “unexpected reminders of business trips, vacations, accidental detours, once frequented and now closed cafés”.

Several other people chimed in with their own examples…the Bluetooth pairings list, the Reminders app, the list of alarms, saved places in mapping apps, AIM/iChat status message log, chat apps not used for years, the Gmail drafts folder, etc.

John Bull noted that his list of former addresses on Amazon is “a massive walk down memory line of my old jobs and places of residence”.

The Ghosts in Our Machines

A friend calls unexpected connections with lost loved ones “winks,” and finding Google Maps photos of my mother felt like a wink of monumental proportions.

Excerpt from this poignant article in The New Yorker, where the writer describes spotting an image of his deceased mother on Google Street View:

Every now and again, when I’ve been working for too many hours without a break or have spent an entire day writing something, I jump on Google Maps Street View and get lost in my past.

The images on Street View, taken by fancy cameras that are usually—though not always—strapped to the tops of cars, are a boon for basement-dwelling architecture buffs and those who want to see the world without going broke. I use the site for far less cosmopolitan purposes. I track down baseball diamonds and bike trails I played on as a kid. I locate comic-book shops from back in the day, old college dorms, hotels my family stayed in during summer vacations back when we took summer vacations as a family. I plop down in places I’ve been, places that have meant something to me, and look around. Then I compare the contemporary to what’s in my memory. It’s a way to unwind, a respite from more taxing laptop-based endeavors.

At first I was convinced that it couldn’t be her, that I was just seeing things. When’s the last time you’ve spotted someone you know on Google Maps? I never had. And my mother, besides, is no longer alive. It couldn’t be her.

That feeling passed quickly. Because it was her. In the photo, my mom is wearing a pair of black slacks and a floral-print blouse. Her hair is exactly as I always remember it. She’s carrying what appears to be a small grocery bag.

The confluence of emotions, when I registered what I was looking at, was unlike anything I had ever experienced—something akin to the simultaneous rush of a million overlapping feelings. There was joy, certainly—“Mom! I found you! Can you believe it?”—but also deep, deep sadness. There was heartbreak and hurt, curiosity and wonder, and everything, seemingly, in between.

The Secret Life of Passwords

Delete password

Excerpt from this article:

…there is more to passwords than their annoyance. In our authorship of them, in the fact that we construct them so that we (and only we) will remember them, they take on secret lives. Many of our passwords are suffused with pathos, mischief, sometimes even poetry. Often they have rich back stories. A motivational mantra, a swipe at the boss, a hidden shrine to a lost love, an inside joke with ourselves, a defining emotional scar — these keepsake passwords, as I came to call them, are like tchotchkes of our inner lives. They derive from anything: Scripture, horoscopes, nicknames, lyrics, book passages. Like a tattoo on a private part of the body, they tend to be intimate, compact and expressive.